Vinson Kurian

Thiruvananthapuram, Jan. 24

The access agreement that India has signed with foreign patent offices to share Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL) in the form of a ‘prior art' could undermine its confidentiality.

'Prior art' is meant to encompass everything that has been published, presented or otherwise disclosed to public on the date of patent and includes documents in foreign languages disclosed in any format in any country.

“I wonder how confidentiality can be maintained if TKDL is treated as a prior art, says Mr R. S. Praveen Raj, who was formerly an examiner with the India Patent Office and presently scientist with the National Institute for Interdisciplinary Science and Technology (NIIST).

TKDL contains approximately 2.08 lakh formulations based on Ayurveda, Unani, Siddha and Yoga. These have been transcribed in five international languages viz. English, French, German, Spanish and Japanese, with the objective of preventing its misappropriation at international patent offices.

Access agreement has been signed with the European Patent Office (EPO) and US Patents and Trademark Office (USPTO) on the premise that the database shall be used for search and examination only and shall not make any third party disclosure except for the purpose of giving a copy to the inventor/applicant as citation. But it is hard for the patent offices to keep the contents of TKDL secret from third parties, since no patent could be granted without disclosing the entire gamut of coded traditional knowledge (TK) associated with the invention to the claimant, says Mr Raj.

Great opportunity

It is going to be a great opportunity for fraudsters to file patent applications purely on conceptual grounds (as if they had performed the invention) since they could hope to fetch authentic information on a TK practice/product.

While codification of TK in digital libraries and sharing the same with patent offices is a viable solution to direct misappropriation, it is feared that it may provide an excuse for capitalists to effect private appropriation by making cosmetic improvements on such traditional knowledge that is not accessible otherwise.

TKDL may indeed be the right strategy to prevent the direct misappropriation of TK already in public domain and known to a large cross-section of people.

But it is learnt that the concept of TKDL is being extended to enable codification of community-owned TK also. In this case, it is a clear injustice to those communities if TK of this nature is shared with patent offices, Mr Raj said.

Instead, he has floated the idea of a Traditional Knowledge Docketing System (TKDS) that may indicate the location at which a particular TK is available, the community that possesses it, a short description on its nature and the protocol set by the communities/TK holders for accessing the same.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated January 25, 2010)
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